Publicis Boss Cuts Online Ad Juggernaut Down to Size

13 November 2007

MONTE CARLO: Publicis Groupe chairman/ceo Maurice Lévy (pictured) - arguably the greatest advertising iconoclast since David Ogilvy - last weekend pricked the hype-fuelled euphoria of the online advertising juggernaut.

Addressing the Monaco Media Forum, Lévy proved himself one of the few senior figures in the communications industry able to see the online media wood for trees.

"Everyone is seeing advertising as the manna," he said. "Far too many people are building plans based on advertising and they may well be disappointed because there is not enough money for everyone."

Lévy likened the boom in businesses with revenue models predicated on the ongoing growth of web advertising, to the dotcom bubble that burst a decade ago.

"It's exactly the same situation as we saw at the end of the 1990s, when everyone thought that because he had a website he'd get the valuation. Now everyone building a Web 2.0 operation believes he will receive the advertising."

Pointing to such social-networking ephemera as Facebook, Lévy opined that while it has succeeded in attracting massive audiences, the small amount of money it makes is out of kilter with its usage.

Largely, Lévy believes, because advertisers are wary of being perceived by users as intrusive. "I'm not sure we've found the right way of communicating with that audience," he admitted.

Lévy himself is not immune to the siren charms of the internet, having earlier this year bought US cybershop Digitas for $1.3 billion (€886.46m; £621.68m). Possibly to ensure that Publicis gets its fair share of however many ad dollars are poured into the online pot.

Also addressing the conference was another of the communication world's great pragmatists, US media and online tycoon Barry Diller. He too fingered Facebook - or at least the $15bn valuation of Facebook implied by Microsoft's $240m minority investment in the site.

"If it's real money it's insane," he said, speculating that Microsoft had taken the stake to prevent Facebook from going into partnership with Google. "Let them sell another 99% for $14.8bn and I'll believe it."

As to NewsCorp's MySpace, Diller dismissed such sites as fashionable "flavours", observing that "the bloom is definitely off the MySpace rose".

Last week Diller, chairman/ceo of the InterActiveCorp media and online conglomerate, also chairman of Expedia, announced a five-way break-up of IAC. Akin, some observers believe, to Noah laying the foundations for his ark.

Data sourced from Financial Times; additional content by WARC staff